Stadium Emergency? Gators Fans Text for Help

Texting at the SwampABC News Photo Illustration

When the University of Florida Gators take the field this fall, fans might notice something a little different. We're not talking about new players or even a new coaching staff, but a new emergency texting system.

Introduced a couple of weeks ago at the spring scrimmage game, the system offers a way for officials to respond to medical emergencies, disturbances, and fans' needs more promptly. Chip Howard, associate athletics director for operations and facilities at UF, calls the new system an improvement over the resources fans now have.

"It's a quick way that they can text message us directly in the control booth and we can quickly get the right people out there and help them," Howard said.

Saving Precious Minutes

The system is a simple. Fans text the word "Gators" to a short five-digit code with the emergency and their location in the stadium. This message is received in a booth and the necessary personnel sent out for help.

"We're excited about this because someone needing medical assistance wouldn't have to get up and go find an usher or police officer, and then have them radio someone in the control booth to get someone out to the location," he said. "This way we can get help directly to them."

The University of Florida is not the first school to implement the system. Scott Myers, vice president of sales and marketing for In Stadium Solutions, the new service's provider, says this system is already in place in many other venues.

"We have this in virtually every big sporting league in the country: the NFL, the NBA, major league baseball," Myers said. "We also have some NCAA venues using it as well as well as many NASCAR tracks."

Some of the NCAA venues include the University of Nebraska, Southern Mississippi, University of Central Florida and the University of Miami.

Decline in Stadium Incidents

Myers notes that venues that use this system have seen a steady decline in the number of incidents at their sporting events. This is a way fans can alert management about unruly fans or misconduct at a game in a very discreet way.

Texting 'Acts as a Deterrent'

"It definitely acts as a deterrent because now people know that there are thousands of eyes upon them rather than just the security guards in the sections," he said.

Blair Hebner, a UF senior majoring in nursing, said the texting program would make her more relaxed when at games: "It's good to know that if something happens, or that if I see someone doing something bad, I can just text it in."

When temperatures at The Swamp, the unofficial name of UF's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, climb to the upper 90's, Hebner added that she feared dehydration or heat exhaustion.

Her fears are not unfounded. The two most commonly reported incidents at football games are heat-related illnesses and unruly fans, respectively, according to the UF police department. Stadium officials maintain the new system will put fans like Hebner at ease.

Concern Over Cell Signals

Many students, however, expressed concern over the lack of cellphone signals at games. College officials downplayed the concern for the fall.

"We had 65 thousand fans for the spring game and there were no technical issues at that game," Howard said. "If there are challenges out there, we'll meet those and address them as they come."

During the spring scrimmage game, officials at the stadium received 35 text messages. They are expecting this number to jump to 100 or 150 during regular season games, and possibly more so during important matches.

"I am sure during the heated SEC [Southeastern Conference] rivalry games there will be a lot of incidents," Myers said.

This new texting system has also a way to detect and block prank text messages, though Myers noted that less than five percent of all messages turn out to be fakes. Venues can determine their own penalties for fans who abuse it.

Neither the university nor In Stadium Solutions would disclose the amount the system would cost the school per game. Standard text-messaging fees will apply to fans texting into the system.

If the program is successful in the football stadium next season, the university's Athletic Association may extend it to other facilities across campus.